Days Gone By - stories from the past

May 27, 1973 – one of the oldest university buildings in Alabama was destroyed by a tornado

Old Southern University

Greensboro, Hale County, Alabama

Old Southern University was built in 1857 by Mullins and Hall of Selma, Alabama. It was owned by the Southern Methodist Church until 1907.

alex-bush-photographer-april-8-1935-front-and-side-view-n-w-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-hale-county-alOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer April-8, 1935 -Front and Side view, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

Founded in 1855

In 1855, after much debate, Southern University was founded by the Methodist Conference that met in Eutaw and Col. John Erwin of Greensboro was appointed to secure a charter from the legislature. The following trustees were appointed Bishops Jas. O. Andrew and Robert Payne, Rev. Doctors T. O. Summers, Archelaus H. Mitchell, Jefferson Hamilton, Philip P. Nedy and Edward Wadsworth, Rev. Christopher C. Callaway, Joseph J. Hutchinson, Joshua T. Heard, Thos. J. Koger, Lucius Q. C. DeYampert, Col. John Erwin, John W. Walton, Thomas M. Johnston, Robert A. Baker, Gideon E. Nelson, Doctors Thos. W. Webb and Gaston Drake.  In the charter appear in addition to the above names the following:  Judge Augustus A. Coleman, Duke W. Goodman, and Rev. Henry W. Hilliard.

Governor Winston vetoed the charter, but the legislature approved it on January 26, 1856.

alex-bush-photographer-april-8-1935-front-and-side-view-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-hale-county-alOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer April-8, 1935 -Back and Side view, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

Cornerstone laid

Once the site was acquired by the University at a cost of $6,400, money was raised around the State of Alabama to build it. On June 11, 1857, with much ceremony, the cornerstone of the University was laid by Col. Wiley, the Masonic Grand Master of Alabama.

The two-story brick structure had a tin and slate roof, with heart-pine floors. Interior walls were wainscotted about four feet and plastered. Exterior walls were reinforced with brick buttresses ten feet apart. Three English towers were originally above the roof, two of them were removed in 1898 because they became unsafe. Each brick was molded and designed for its particular place in the construction of Roman and Gothic arches for door and window openings.

alex-bush-photographer-april-8-1935-close-up-north-front-entrance-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-hale-countOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer April-8, 1935 -Close-up of front entrance, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

alex-bush-july-31-1936-wood-carving-on-second-floor-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboroOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer July 31, 1936 wood carving on 2nd floor, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

First session

The first session opened on October 3, 1859, with the following faculty:  Dr. William W. Wightman, President and Professor Biblical Literature; N. Thomas Lupton, A. M. Professor of Chemistry; Oscar F. Casey, A. M., Professor of Chemistry; Oscar F. Casey, A. M. Professor of Ancient Languages; Edward Wadsworth, A. M. Professor of Moral Philosophy; John C. Wills, A. M. Professor of Mathematics.

“At the first commencement, the date of which was fixed for the first Wednesday in July, Benjamin Huey, of Talladega, and John V. Glass of Pickens county graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts.”1

alex-bush-april-8-1935-view-showing-balcony-of-auditorium-has-800-seats-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboroOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer April-8, 1935 -balcony of auditorium with 800 seats, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

alex-bush-photographer-april-8-1935-view-from-stage-toward-north-main-floor-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboroOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer April-8, 1935 – from stage to main floor, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

alex-bush-photographer-july-31-1936-stage-in-south-end-of-auditorium-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-hale-countOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer July 31, 1936 – from stage to main floor, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

alex-bush-photographer-july-31-1936-north-wall-of-auditorium-second-floor-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-haOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer July 31, 1936 – North wall of auditorium, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

alex-bush-photographer-july-31-1936-south-wall-on-right-of-stage-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-hale-countOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer July 31, 1936,  South wall on right of stage, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

Loss of students

During the Civil War, many of the students served in the CSA, but the institution remained open even when the enrollment was only fourteen.

“At the opening of the session in 1865 not a single class could be formed, but Professor Casey, during the year, gave instruction in classics to twenty young men.  There were forty-three in the Preparatory Department under Professor Casey.  Though the struggle through the war was hard, it seems the doors were never closed. Reconstruction was almost as hard as the period of war.  In 1867, the agent, the Rev. Mr. Callaway, reported that $171,810.66 in notes was placed in his hands.  Of this amount $4,683 was collected in cash, $16,000 was renewed, $40,000 was classed as possibly good and $75,000 as worthless.  The magnificent endowment had been swept away, leaving the school a lot of worthless paper which was carried upon the book for years.  The buildings were intact and free from debt. Hamilton Hall which became a dormitory, was secured in 1869 by the foreclosure of a mortgage held by the University.”2

alex-bush-photographer-april-8-1935-main-hall-towards-south-from-front-door-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-halOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer April-8, 1935 – Main hall toward south – front door, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

alex-bush-photographer-april-8-1935-view-toward-east-in-hallway-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-hale-county-alOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer April-8, 1935 -toward east in hallway, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

Trouble in the 1870s

Southern University was adopted by the North Mississippi Methodist conference in 1870, but this was short-lived and the University faced an uncertain future. Finally, Chancellor Luther Smith from Emory College in Georgia infused new life into the institution and debts were wiped. In 1883, when Dr. Andrews was president, an era of prosperity ensued and the largest attendance in the history of the institution was reached in 1889-90. A gym was built in 1907.

In 1898, Birmingham College was opened in Birmingham, Alabama by the Northern Methodist Conference. In 1917, the college enrollment was 90 students with an attached academy of 50 or more students. In 1915, Southern University had a football team. Women were first allowed to attend classes as early as 1867, but the first woman did not graduate until 1897.

After 20 years, the Northern and Southern Methodist Conferences combined the two schools. On May 30, 1918, the two institutions, Birmingham College and Southern University merged under the name of Birmingham-Southern College.

alex-bush-photographer-july-31-1936-door-in-north-wall-of-west-hall-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-hale-countOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer April-8, 1935 – door in north hall of west hall, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

Became a military academy

At the time of the merger, the property consisted of the Main Hall, Hamilton Hall (the dormitory), a gymnasium and a sports field. After Southern University moved out, Main Hall was converted into a private military academy and remained a military academy through 1934.

alex-bush-right-stairs-towards-west-in-east-end-of-hall-east-of-main-hallway-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-halOld Southern University, Alex Bush, photographer April-8, 1935 – right stairs towards west in east end of hall east of main hallway, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

alex-bush-april-8-1935-fireplace-in-north-east-room-on-second-floor-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboroOld Southern University, Alex Bush, Photographer April-8, 1935 – fireplace in east room of second floor, University Avenue College Street Greensboro Hale County, Alabama

Tragedy strikes

In 1965, Southern Academy was established in the renovated main building as a private school. Tragedy struck on May 27, 1973 only minutes after the school’s Baccalaureate Service ended on a Sunday evening when a tornado struck and destroyed the 117-year-old building. However, the community came together and rebuilt the school. Many of the original bricks from the old university still make up the walls of Southern Academy.

southern-university-historical-markerHistoric site marker of Southern University

w-n-manning-photographer-april-3-1934-front-view-old-southern-university-university-avenue-college-street-greensboro-hale-county-al-locW. N. Manning, Photographer, April 3, 1934. Front view.  Old Southern University, University Avenue (College Street), Greensboro, Hale County, AL

Presidents of the Southern University through 1908

Wm. W. Wightman, 1859–1867.
Edward Wadsworth, 1868-1870.
Allen S. Andrews, 1871–1875.
Luther M. Smith, 1875-1879.
Josiah Lewis, 1880–1881.
Francis M. Peterson ( acting president), 1881-1883.
Allen S. Andrews, 1883-1894.
John O. Keener, 1894-1898.
Samuel M. Hosmer, 1899-to present.

Faculty of the Southern University through 1908

Dr. Edward Wadsworth, A. M., 1859-’70. Moral Philosophy. N. Thomas Lupton, A. M., 1869-’71. Chemistry. O. F. Casey, A. M., 1869-’76. Ancient Languages. J. C. Wills, A. M., 1859–’71. Mathematics. J. A. Reubelt, 1860-’61. Modern Languages. John S. Moore, A. M., 1871-’84. Mathematics. D. M. Rush, A. M., 1872-’74. Mathematics. Dr. T. O. Summers, Jr., 1871-’74. Chemistry. I. S. Hopkins, 1876-’78. Science. C. A. Grote, A. M., 1876-’94. Science and Modern LanguageS. Rev. J. Lewis, Jr., 1875-’81. English. C. M. Verdel, A. M., 1876-’81. Science. F. M. Peterson, A. M., 1877-’99. Ancient Languages. J. A. Moore, Ph. D., 1883-’94. Mathematics. L. C. Dickey, 1883-’84. English and History. Rev. J. F. Sturdivant, 1885-’90. English. E. L. Brown, B. S., 1889-’03. Science. C. L. McCartha, 1890-’92. English. D. P. Christenberry, A. M., 1892. English. L. P. Giddens, A. B., 1894-1907. Mathematics. Rev. J. W. Shoaff, D. D., 1899-’02. Mental and Moral Philosophy. J. T. Littleton, A. M., 1899. Modern Languages. E. K. Turner, Ph. D., 1899-’03. Ancient Languages. Andrew Sledd, Ph. D., 1903-’04. Greek. E. L. Colebeck, M. A., 1902-1907. Ancient Languages. B. P. Richardson, B. S., 1903. Science. C. P. Atkinson, A. M., 1904. Mental and Moral PhilOsophy. F. E. Chapman, A. M., 1907. Mathematics. D. M. Key, A. M., 1907. Ancient Languages.


  1. HISTORIC AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY – E. Walter Burkhardt, District Officer Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Auburn, Alabama
  2. History of Greensboro by William Yerby, 1908

1History of Greensboro by William Yerby, 1908

2History of Greensboro by William Yerby, 1908

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Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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  1. I really love seeing these old photos and stories. Thanks

    1. I’m glad you enjoy them.

  2. Beautiful building! I have never heard of this university.

    1. It combined with Birmingham College to form Birmingham Southern in Birmingham, AL. Old building became Southern Academy in 1965.

    2. Jean Woods Watson Thank you for the information!

  3. Great article. The tornado that destroyed Southern University, and became known as the Brent Tornado, occurred on May 27, 1973

  4. This historic web site is wonderful. The pictures of Southern Univ. are beautiful; and Birmingham-Southern College is a jewel as an off-spring. Too bad this beautiful building isn’t on the B’ham campus. Don’t know if you have in the past, but please consider featuring Athens State Univ., formerly Athens College – buildings even older than Southern Univ., dating back to pre-Civil War days.

  5. It’s now the home of Southern Academy. I had the privilege of coaching there in the 80’s

    1. You beat me to an answer, Jim!

  6. My father attended the Military Academy when he was high school age. Always said it was one of the most beautiful buildings he had ever seen. Built by slaves.

  7. I use to live in Greensboro… beautiful ole southern town!

  8. I just marvel and mourn at what Greensboro, my beloved home town could have become.

  9. […] of acres of land in that locality. The settlers built up a small village named Troy near where Southern University was later […]

  10. I think I was 14 years of age at the time of the tornado. A friend of mine worked for a man who had the contract of clearing the rubble. I vaguely remember sorting through the brick and putting it in piles. I was glad when they were able to use some of them in the new building. These photos bring back memories–I could no longer remember what the building looked like until seeing these. Thanks!!

  11. I’m a bit confused about such a place as Troy in Hale county. No mention of the town of Troy in Pike county where I was born? I collect history books from the southeastern counties of Alabama and don’t find very many of them?

    1. The story you are referring that mentions Troy in Hale County is a transcription from the following book.
      HISTORY OF GREENSBORO, ALABAMA From Its Earliest Settlement by William Edward Wadsworth Yerby, Montgomery, Alabama, The Paragon Press, 1908 transcribed by Debra Hudson

      Troy in Hale County, like the town of Erie, no longer exists.

  12. […] Old Southern University, University Avenue and College Street, Greensboro, Alabama April 3, 1934 by W. N. Manning photographer (Library of Congress) […]

  13. […] Old Southern University Stage in Greensboro, Alabama ca. 1930s, photographer Alex Bush (Library of […]

  14. I lived on college street in the late 59s and early 50s.

    1. Late 40s and late 50s…. sorry.

    2. Margie would you have been related to George McCrory of the Quality Shop formerly in Greensboro?

  15. I was sitting on the stage for our Senior Baccalaureate Service that Sunday. We left the service 20 minutes before the stage fell in where we had just been sitting!

    1. We had just left too. I’m so glad I got to experience life in the “ole castle”. It was a beautiful building that housed the first Southern families. I missed those days

    2. If we could only go back!!!!

    3. Henry Thigpen. Amen

    4. That is a hoot!! I wish!! Miss ya but not that JOB!!

    5. Bonnie Burt I miss you too, girlie!

  16. It was May 27, 1973, hit Greensboro, then Brent. This was my alma mater.

    1. I do remember oh so well

  17. Patrick, this is so interesting! Thank you for posting. Such a beautiful building, so sorry I never got to see it.

  18. It was a beautiful building.

  19. This is beautiful. The architectural style has a Gothic look. Where would this be located in current day Greensboro?

    1. It was destroyed by a Tornado in 1973.

    2. Michele A. Clements yes I read that. It is such a shame, it looked beautiful.I was curious to the building was located, before the tornado destroyed

    3. Christie Watson Baker on the site of current Southern Academy

  20. I love pictures of the old College

  21. I love history like this. Greensboro is a beautiful place.

  22. What a beautiful building!

  23. What a spectacular building! It’s really Sad that they couldn’t rebuild something even remotely similar. I wonder what the story was there?! No insurance? I mean really! What happened? I hear they used some of the original bricks in the odd metal/brick structure that’s exists today. It’s hard to believe it ever looked like THAT in that location. Caitlyn Cordova good share tho. I had the book from Dr Bailey with this photo in it. Also pictures of a dirt main street with horse drawn carriages! Pretty cool and kinda sad to think they had an OPERA house and a university!

  24. Nice article about Southern University/Southern Academy, but please change the date of the tornado. It was May 27 not May 23. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for the correction.

  25. What a wonderful article. I saw it before the tornado but not inside. My family had students there as well as BSC later. Andrew , Jamey, Marietta, Helen Rosa

    1. Marietta we drove through there on the way to and from the Givhans farm. I was about 11

    2. I love that you remember seeing it! Must have made quite an impression.

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